Olmert to IDF: "Think of the Palestinians suffering at the checkpoints"

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported today that “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has called on IDF commanders in the West Bank to understand that the roadblocks are causing suffering to the Palestinians, whose needs should be appreciated to avoid a worsening of relations between the two peoples. Olmert made these comments during a closed-door meeting with brigade commanders of Central Command. ‘Take all the Palestinians who were stripped at the roadblocks, only because there was concern that some of them were terrorists. Take all those who stand at the roadblocks where there is concern that a car bomb will pass through’, Olmert said. ‘This can become a boiling pot that can explode and cause terrible burns, and it can also be something else, which only depends on your understanding and abilities to conduct yourselves with wisdom and determination’.” The Haaretz article can be read in full here.

The visit by Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to the Israel Defense Force’s Central Command was on Tuesday.

An information note distributed later by his office said that “The visit focused on the Central Command’s southern sector, especially the city of Hebron”.

The information note said that in his remarks to the officers and soldiers he met, Olmert “emphasized the need to ease restrictions – by as much as possible – on the lives of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria in order to help advance the peace process”.

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson, Mark Regev, explained in a phone interview with this journalist on Wednesday morning that “there has been an on-going discussion for the past weeks at the highest levels of the Israeli government” about achieving the right balance between two “conflicting goals”, which are the desire to provide the greatest possible access for Palestinian civilians, while at the same time protecting Israel’s civilians.

Regev emphasized that the discussion was within the Israeli government.

Asked if the Prime Minister was trying to push the Defense Ministry toward a bit more flexibility, Regev replied that “It’s not a matter of someone being right and someone being wrong”.

“The idea that you can take down most roadblocks is not serious”, Regev said, but “we are willing to take a calculated risk”.

Akiva Eldar wrote in another article in Haaretz today that “In the past, there have been cases in which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had promised PA President Mahmoud Abbas that the number of roadblocks would be reduced, however data from OCHA, B’tselem and Machsom Watch suggested that the numbers have not decreased – only increased. In closed sessions held these past few days with Israeli officials, American diplomats assigned to the implementation of the road map expressed their dissatisfaction at the lack of change in Israel’s policy restricting the movement of Palestinians. Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s office would not comment, referring Haaretz to the IDF Spokesman. ‘According to the decision of the political leadership, the IDF lifted on Tuesday, April 1, 50 dirt obstacles and one roadblock, in an effort to improve the lives of Palestinians. In addition, the Central Command has evaluated the situation along with officials from the Civil Administration, and other measures have been agreed upon, including the lifting of 10 other roadblocks, which were lifted on Thursday, April 3. The IDF will continue assessing the situation and exploring the possibility for improving the lives of the Palestinians, while dealing with the terrorist organizations that are trying to strike in Israel’s rear and in the area,” the IDF Spokesman said”.

Akiva Eldar’s article is published here .

Machsom (checkpoint) Watch: IDF gave Rice false figures, wrong impression

Haaretz is reporting that the very respectable Machsom Watch (Israeli women who monitor IDF practices at checkpoints in the West Bank) is publicly challenging figures that Defense Minister Ehud Barak piously — they say misleadingly — gave to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice: “Only two of the 24 roadblocks Israel allegedly removed recently were in fact removed; many never existed to begin with, the Machsom Watch organization said Tuesday. Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Israel had removed 24 West Bank roadblocks in order to ease mobility for ordinary Palestinians. However, Machsom Watch activists conducted their own check and concluded the following:
(1.) While the army reported removing 11 dirt roadblocks around Hebron, most of them never existed to begin with.
(2.) Three dirt roadblocks near Salfit also never existed; the same is true of two roadblocks between Al-Abed and Anabta, near Tul Karm.
(3.) The checkpoint near Herodion, which was also on the list, was actually removed two years ago.
(3) At the Jitt Junction near Kedumim, two roadblocks were supposedly removed to allow pedestrian (but not vehicular) traffic through the junction. However, Machsom Watch said, pedestrian traffic is still not being permitted.

The organization noted that since the Israel Defense Forces refused to give it the list of removed roadblocks, it relied on information from a third party that obtained the list from the IDF. No response was received from the IDF spokesman by press time. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/924218.htmlThe Haaretz report about Machsom Watch’s challenge to the IDF figures for roadblocks and checkpoints supposedly removed is here.